Category Archives: Who Is

Is Waverly Hills Sanatorium Haunted or Haunting?

waverly hills postcard

No one is exactly sure where and when tuberculosis originated, but it has been called many other names over the centuries: consumption, phthisis, scrofula, Pott’s disease, the white plague and the white death. It can be found in humans and animals back to antiquity and beyond. The organism causing tuberculosis has been found in relics from ancient Egypt, India, and China. Among Egyptian mummies spinal tuberculosis, known as Pott’s disease has been detected by archaeologists. Tubercular decay has even been found in the remains of the once mighty Bison in Wyoming.  In the middle ages it was called the King’s Evil and it was believed that the kings of France and England could cure it just by touching you and there are folklore tales of it being associated with vampirism before the mid 1700s.  Even though there is a cure for it now, 8 million cases a year are reported worldwide.  It is a slow, agonizing disease; one that probably had you wishing for death before a cure was found in the 20th century.

In 1854 sanatoriums were used for persons afflicted by consumption with a strict regimen of bed-rest, fresh air at all times – patients are even moved outside in their beds in all weathers – a healthy diet and a gradual increase in activity levels. It wasn’t until 1868 that researchers realized it was contagious and a myriad of treatments are tried and discarded over the next 90 years before science started helping in the 20th century. There were simple procedures for less advanced patients including not allowing them to talk so the lungs were not taxed. Scary sounding procedures known as Pneumoectomy, Phrenicotomy, Thoracoplasty, Artifical Pneumothorax and Shot bags were used for the advanced patients (you can read about each one HERE)

dont kiss meIn 1944, Doctors Schatz, Bugie and Waksman announced the discovery of a drug called ‘Streptomycin‘ and that the first patient had been successfully treated with the drug. In 1952 Doctors Robizek and Selikoff at Seaview Hospital, New York, use a new drug called ‘Isoniazid‘ to treat TB patients. In 1960 is was realized that a combination of these two drugs could completely cure the disease and the “Edinburgh Method”, as it would later be called, was started on TB patients around the world with resounding success.

 

It is no wonder why sanatoriums that are still standing are a mecca for both ghost hunters and paranormal investigators around the world and this brings us to the purpose of this article.

As always, let me preface this by saying that I am in NO way implying that Waverly Hills Sanatorium does not have reasons to be haunted. It most certainly saw a lot of death in the TB days and accusations of abuse of the elderly in the later part of the 20th century. My ongoing goal is to provide you with accurate information so that IF you are going to investigate you know the real facts, not the manufactured ones, beforehand. The patients at Waverly were real people with real lives that were disrupted or ended by this horrendous disease, and the story SHOULD be about the great strides made at this cutting edge facility to try to give them a longer life, not the fakelore that has been fabricated about events that never happened. I personally find it disrespectful to walk into the place a person took their last agonizing breath and try to communicate with them by asking questions that have no basis in reality.

Major Thomas Hays

Major Thomas Hays

Waverly Hills in Kentucky was land that was purchased by Major Thomas Hays in 1883. Frustrated with distance of the nearest school he arranged to use a nearby one room building and gave aspiring teacher Elizabeth Harris her first teaching position.  She is credited with naming the school Waverley and Major Hays liked it so much he named the rest of the property Waverley Hills.

In a legislative meeting in 1906 the Board of Tuberculosis Hospital was formed and by 1908 enough funds were available from an imposed tax levy to start purchasing land for a sanatorium. Major Hays died in 1909 and the board bought the Hays farm, which consisted of 125 acres, they kept the name it had been given in 1883.

original hospital drawing

Original Hospital Drawing

 

On July 26, 1910 a 40 bed hospital was opened but quickly outgrew its capacity.  Patients were living in tents on the property and over the years buildings were added, including some frame buildings acquired from the Army surplus in Fort Knox.  In 1923 a bond was issued in the amount of one million dollars to buy surrounding property and build a new facility.  On October 20, 1926 the hospital was dedicated with much fanfare.

october 20

october 20 02

october 20 03

 

The New Hosptial

The New Hospital

5th floor playground

5th floor playground

Immediately after the opening all the children from the original hospital were moved to the 5th floor where play equipment had been set up for them.

 

 

 

 

 

In 1927 it was recorded that there were 361 patients1927

hospital bars non residentsThe popularity of Waverly Hills Sanatorium quickly grew, with people around the world trying to get themselves a bed. In 1929 it was decreed that only residents (of at least one year) of Louisville and Jefferson county could be admitted to this hospital, causing many to move there just to be allowed to get treatment at Waverly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

grandOver the decades it repeatedly received high marks and praise from every inspection it got. Numerous articles were written about the outstanding care, compassion and education the patients and community received.

 

 

 

All patients had schedules customized to the severity and location of their disease, including time during the day when they were not allowed to talk to give their lungs a rest but social life inside the walls was promoted to the fullest. They had weekly entertainment, religious services, vocational classes and even competitions.

vocations

King and Queen

In the 1940s there was talk of combining the health departments of Waverly and City Hospital, but the conditions at City Hospital were so bad an uproar was raised until “things at City Hospital were run as well as Waverly is now run”.

blamed

In 1961 the gates to Waverly were closed after the few remaining patients were transferred to Hazelwood Sanatorium, the state TB hospital, decidedly marking the end of an era.

death leaves waverly

In 1962 the facility was converted to a geriatric facility that closed amidst charge of abuse in 1980.

Ownership changed hands a few times until it was purchased by the current owners in 2001.  In the last 15 years countless tv shows, movies, films and home video have been recorded there all in the hopes of catching the holy grail of “ghost hunting” evidence.

I’m sure no one can say exactly when the tales of hauntings started. I’ve seen interviews with nurses from the geriatric phase talk about weird goings on, but nothing before that (not to say people weren’t reporting it, just that I can’t find documentation) Someone somewhere knows who made up the erroneous tales that have fascinated folks so much they are willing to fork over their hard earned money to participate in ghost tours or private investigations but it is doubtful that information will ever be forthcoming.  Current rates are $22.86 for a two hour guided public tour up to $1500 for an overnight private investigation. Rumors have been circulating for years that the current owners want to turn it into a hotel but nothing has come of it yet. Still, you can give them even more money and obtain cute items via their gift shop.

Don’t get me wrong, I realize a place this expansive costs a lot to keep up and I am all for contributing to the preservation of a historical location. But (and yes, with me there is always a “but”) if I am going to hand over my hoarded grocery money or pawn my first born to spend a night there, how about giving me some real history or so I can conduct a real investigation?

When you google Waverly Hills, or watch any of the countless tv shows and movies filmed there, you are usually told (in no particular order) that there were over 63,000 deaths there, a nurse by the name of Mary Hillenburg was either murdered or committed suicide in room 502 (the year this supposedly happened varies depending on who you listened to), the fifth floor was for the mental patients, there was a blood draining room where dead patients were sliced open like wild game to bleed out thru a drain that led to the sewer system, there was a room for electro shock therapy and the death tunnel was used to remove bodies of people because they were dying at a rate of 1 or 3 (depending on who you’re listening to) an hour.

In 2001, Waverly was featured on Scariest Place on Earth (Season 2 Epi#23) with the new owner, starting the perpetuation of bad information and in 2006 a “documentary” called SPOOKED The Ghosts Of Waverly Hills Sanatorium covered all of these things in glorious detail via interviews with previous patients, staff employees from both the sanatorium and the geriatric center, some security people, a band, a ghost tour guide from a local paranormal group and the current owners.  I have to give one of the previous patients some props here, when asked about those claims, he would state those were things he did not know or had never heard about, and in what he DID talk about he came across as a man that doesn’t forget anything. TV shows like Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures followed suit… using all the same mantra in the history they presented. I knew it was going to be bad when the opening of the “documentary” showed erroneous facts. It says that in 1928 there were so many deaths from TB in Kentucky that a monstrous sanatorium was built, complete with body chute AKA The Death Tunnel, constructed to remove the bodies and then informs us that it closed in 1958. Now, if you’ve forgotten the timeline I gave you above, the original hospital was built in 1910, a larger one was constructed and opened in 1926 and it closed in 1961. See? Bad start to said “documentary”

spooked01 spooked02

spooked03 spooked04

In one of his opening remarks, a tour guide informs us that in the first year alone (1926) 20,000 people died there.  As you can see here, there were only 5,732 deaths in the entire county for that year

1926 deaths

Heck, there were only 32,677 deaths in the ENTIRE state of Kentucky in 1926

1926 state deaths

One of the biggest untruths told is the amount of deaths at Waverly Hills. It is usually stated as more than 60,000 or 63,000 or some number like that.

1932 Crawford

 

Sometime after I started doing research for this article, I met a wonderful woman by the name of Pam and over the course of time I like to think that even though we have never met, we have become the best of friends. I originally tracked her down because of the Waverly Hills Memorial Website (which I linked near the beginning of this with the treatment descriptions). I realized rather quickly that she could corroborate some of the research I had already done, so being the expert researcher that I am, I tracked her down on facebook and forced her to have a phone conversation with me.  2 hours and a steno pad half full of notes later, I knew I’d found a kindred spirit, on many levels. She had started working on a project to get copies of all the death certificates for anyone who died at Waverly to try to prove the real death totals. In case you don’t know it, when someone dies their death cert has to state who, when, where, why and how (those last two are known as cause of death and manner of death).  This is a sample death cert of someone that died at Waverly. You will see that it gives her name, the date she died, the location she died and what she died of (among other information that is fantastic for genealogy researchers)

I joined Pam on her mission and while we are not there yet, our projections will put the real number of deaths between 5000-6000 (leaving room for a some that are not able to be identified as specific deaths at Waverly) because on average there were about 105 deaths per year it was open. Some years had far far less than that, and the highest death rates were right before WWII was over and right after.  1944 saw 151 deaths, 1945 & 1946 saw 162 (the highest number for any one year). This is just an example of some of the years we have completed, and as you can see people were not dying at a stated rate of 1 or even 3 per hour.

  • 1953 = 65
  • 1952 = 79
  • 1951 = 107
  • 1950 = 89
  • 1949 = 103
  • 1948 = 107
  • 1947 = 121
  • 1946 = 162
  • 1945 = 162   WWII ends
  • 1944 = 151
  • 1943 = 126
  • 1942 = 119
  • 1941 = 111
  • 1940 = 108
  • 1939 = 81      WWII starts
  • 1938 = 114
  • 1937 = 117
  • 1936 = 85
  • 1935 = 88
  • 1934 = 11
  • 1932 = 91

The “body chute” or “death tunnel” tales are tall tales.  This tunnel was originally built as a supply tunnel. Newspaper articles talk about the special rail spur that was put in at the end of it near the power station so that supplies could be moved by rail cart, a much easier way than they were doing it.  Employees also used it as an entrance when the weather was bad. Yes, bodies were removed via the tunnel, but not because they were dying at such a fast rate. According to Dr. Frank Stewart’s autobiography he relates a story of how the tunnel stopped being used for body transport before his time there (he started there in 1945). If you find yourself in the tunnel, please remember this was a pathway for the deceased to their final resting place.

map building_list_pt_1

As mentioned earlier, the 5th floor housed children for a time and it was also where patients received Heliotherapy. It never, at any time, housed mental patients.  All people that suffered from both mental deficiencies and tuberculosis were sent to Central State Hospital. Which brings us to the famous suicidal/murdered nurse.

I don’t know who Mary Hillenburg was in real life, but if she was in fact a real person (I can’t find her on a census anywhere), she is rolling in her grave.  Depending on who you listen to, this poor unmarried nurse found out she was pregnant by one of the doctors and either A. committed suicide by hanging herself from a pipe (or light fixture) or B. was murdered in 1926 or 1928 or in the 1940s in room 502 depending on who you get your information from. As you can see below, only two women with that last name ever died in the state of Kentucky, both after Waverly closed. If someone ever tells you that she hung herself from a pipe, please please please ask how that is possible since the pipes in that room were not installed until the 1970s when a sprinkler system was put in. There is a member of a band who admits in the Spooked “documentary” that he stole the room number on a visit there and says bad luck followed him in the form of getting kicked out of his home and his recording space. Now I am not judgmental of how a person looks/acts… much, but the from the impression made in the video I’m pretty sure there were probably other mitigating circumstances to his “bad luck”.

ancestry hillenburg

There are are no newspaper articles anywhere talking about an incident with a person of this name between 1920 and 1950 either. Surely such a grisly event would have caught the media’s attention? There are NO accounts of suicide by any name occurring at Waverly on death certificates or newspaper or book accounts. No hangings, no jumping out of windows, no slashing of wrists…. Nothing.

hillenburg newspapers

There WAS a nurse that died of a heart attack there in the 1945/46 fiscal year, but no suicides.  Dr. Frank Stewart talks about a suicide attempt of a patient turned intern during his tenure there (he was there from 1945-1955) but the attempt failed and the woman died much later on of cancer. In his 1991 autobiography, Sunrise – Sunset, he talks about his time at Waverly

 I was assigned to the third floor where I had 106 beds, most of them full at all times. We had a lot of deaths then, mostly soldiers who were coming back from the war in about 1946 and 1947. They were so far advanced that some of them didn’t live more than a week after arriving at Waverly.”
” Each doctor was required to try to help keep up with *the 17% requirement of autopsies on deaths in order to hold an A classification. The doctors rotated on the coverage for weekends. I remember one weekend when I was on call for the whole hospital; we had 4 deaths. Out of the four, I did three autopsies. We would collect the specimens of all of the organs, observe any abnormalities, dictate the gross findings, and take specimens to be sent to the pathology laboratory for further examination. One of these years, we had 152 deaths, which was the highest in the history of the institution.

**It is believed that the number stated of 152 is a typo since the highest number of deaths of 162 in 1945 and 1946 occurred during his time there.

A lot of times people are taken to a room and told it was the electro shock room. It even supposedly has an opening that other people looked through to watch these treatments. This kind of therapy was not used at Waverly and it is obvious by the labeling on the control there that it was some kind of maintenance room.

electro room

This room is in the same wing as the infamous “blood draining room”. According to legend the dead were taken to this room, hung from hooks and sliced open so their blood could empty out into the drain in the floor.  Um, yeah… why would that even be something that would be done (unless you’re making a cheesy horror movie about bad things happening at “hospital”). Blueprints for Waverly prove that this room was a transformer room, next to the power distribution room and even the door says “fire door”. But hey, I guess if you were going to disguise the “bad” room at a hospital that would be the way to do it right? No, I don’t think so either.

There are many other “legends” told about the place when you take your ghost tour there (some involving kids named Timmy or Mary Lee), I have just tried to address the biggies here and leave it up to you to decide for yourself what you do and don’t believe. In fairness, I must note that I have spoken with some recent investigators that have gone there and it DOES seem like some of this “information” has been taken out of the tour script and I am not at all saying the current owners do not love and care about Waverly, that fact is evident in the things they do to try to raise money to keep it going and get it renovated. BUT… when I did an informal survey of people (both investigators and the general public, including my own mother) the damage done by the tv shows and past tour guides (especially the one featured in Spooked) is still there. They are still under the assumption that these things are “true”. It’s going to take a long time for the owners to get out from under the halo of bad information given by the people they previously trusted to relay the history of this place.

Waverly Hills Sanatorium was a place of innovation, of caring, of learning and of healing and I find it really sad that those great attributes do not seem to be the focus of this great institution anymore. This building and those that lived and died there deserve to be remembered with dignity and respect and it is my greatest wish that one day that will happen by the majority, not the minority. A minority that includes people like Pam Brooks and John & Angela Amerine who, like me, have dedicated years to finding and promoting the real history to those that would listen.  I did a lot of research myself, but this article would in no way be possible without Pam, John & Angela and the time they gave me when they saw I was interested in the real story and I thank them for their dedication to the truth and the desire to make people see Waverly Hills Sanatorium as it truly was.

angelaThis article is dedicated to the memory of Angela Amerine who passed away in 2015. She worked so tirelessly with her husband John to get the real information and I am proud to carry on the legacy she left.

The Exorcist House & Boy – 1949

Exorcism Ritual Book

Exorcism Ritual Book circa 1776

 

******Authors Note 10/13/2016 – If you are new to this website, chances are you found this page because Destination America aired a 6 year old mockumentary last night called The Haunted boy. Why, Shannon, what do you mean by “mockumentary”?  I’m so glad you asked! A mockumentary is a term I use for something that is presented as fact in the guise of a documentary but is full of misleading information or out right lies, as is the case with The Haunted Boy (and another shameful one by the same people called Spooked that is about Waverly Hills Sanitorium). Nothing gets me on my soap box faster than paranormal entertainment that is presented as fact. Please keep in mind that para entertainment does not have a goal to actually educate you with the truth about the paranormal and if you can find even one lie in something, it degrades the entire thing. Those of you that have heard me speak at various events or on radio/podcasts know my passion for haunted history to be factual because I believe it does a real disservice to those that have gone on before us.  If you are reading this article now because of last night airing, all I ask is that you take note of the misinformation presented in the show, read the documented facts here and then ask yourself, when are we going to start holding Para “Celebrities” accountable?  When are you going to start demanding that your entertainment be truthful?*****End Authors Rant

Ok, let’s see a show of hands of who watched Exorcism: Live! on October 30, 2015. You know, that three ring circus of incorrect information interrupted by commercials every five minutes that was presented on cable tv for our “Halloween” entertainment? It’s ok, you can admit it, I certainly did, but mainly because I wanted to see who had sold their souls (and any reputation they MAY have had before October 30th) for the sake of para-entertainment, to the devil parading as “factual tv” (please read that doing Dr. Evil’s air quote pantomime). We were led to believe we would not be lacking in experienced people participating in this event to rid the world of a horrible evil. We had a paranormal investigation team, a couple of mediums, a “documentary” filmmaker and a bishop just to name a few.

I have a VERY small circle of friends that are actually serious researchers when it comes to “haunted locations” and we were all of the same opinion beforehand: it was going to be crap. I don’t know why, but I was really surprised to see some of the people that were involved in this on one hand, and totally expectant of some of the other people because their screwed up version of the “truth” of this location has been making its way around the internet for years.

Now, if you can wipe that scripted and rehearsed (as stated by participant Michael Lynch on his facebook page after it aired) joke of a show with its multitude of commercials from your mind, I will be happy to give you some real facts about the “exorcist house” and what did and did not take place there in 1949. If you would rather live in your fantasy world dripping with a male southern drawls and tight t-shirts, stop reading now.

There are some things you should know about the “Exorcist House” if you want to talk about it factually and hopefully if you don’t get bored reading this, you will be a much more informed person on many fronts.

Now, keep in mind I am not saying whether the child was or was not possessed or if there are any evil spirits lurking in this home. I am not qualified to judge that, I was not there, although an in depth interview with a forensic psychiatrist mirrored my own belief that he was not and actually suffered from a form of Asperger’s Syndrome. Although, one would think if he WAS possessed and liberated there would be no evil spirit at all since the point of an exorcism is to send the demon back from whence it came. IF the evil did not go back to where it came from, wouldn’t it be at the Alexian Brothers hospital?

As a dedicated researcher my job is to track down the facts and weigh them against purported para-entertainment facts. If you study the priest’s diary (which I have read MANY times), it contradicts a lot of the stories that have been told via media treatments about the words and scratches that appeared on him and says several times that a lot of the “activity” was not witnessed, only the after effects were seen. Witnesses said the scratches that appeared on his skin, looked like lipstick and these marks did not resemble words nor clear images of anything. Extensive groundbreaking research done by Mark Opsasnick says the child was not described as a nice kid in the neighborhood. Peers tell stories of him being a “spoiled mean bastard” that fought with people all the time and even went so far as to sic his dog on a neighborhood child for fun and this was before “symptoms” started appearing in January 1949. He was a manipulative only child set on getting his way and my research shows his goal was to move to his aunt and uncles house in St. Louis. In the end, he didn’t get what he wanted and he returned home to finish 8th grade in Maryland and spent his high school years in DC.

I have read a lot of information over the years and a common theme seems to lay some blame on the grandmother. People have stated that she was a German full of old world spiritualism and some claim she didn’t speak much English. Now, I do not at all doubt she had a love of spiritualism. Anna Herbst Coppage was born in 1881 and would have been coming of age during the height of the Victorian Spiritualism movement. I am, however, confused about the “reports” that she was an old German woman that spoke no English. Birth and census records show Anna was born in St. Louis, Missouri to American born parents. Her mother was a 1st generation American, her grandmother having come from Germany, so I am sure there was some German spoken at family gatherings on her mother’s side but her father’s multi-generational American family would have definitely spoken English.

Coppage Census 1910

1910 Census showing the Coppage family (including the child’s mother)

 

Anna's birth records showing both parents born in the US (last line)

Anna’s birth records showing both parents born in the US (last line)

I would have been more impressed if they had looked towards his father, Leonard. He was a first generation American born of a father that emigrated here from Switzerland in 1870. His sister Mathilda H. Hendricks is the person reported by some as the one who taught the child to use an Ouija board. Mathilda lived in Missouri but did not live in the “exorcist” house, she lived in her own quaint little house in Richmond Heights. She passed away shortly before he began to exhibit “symptoms”. Séances were not conducted in St. Louis, this home was owned by a different aunt (Aunt Doris).

Aunt Tillie's House

Aunt Tillie’s House

 

Aunt Doris' House

Aunt Doris’ House

Contrary to para entertainment’s versions, a priest that witnessed the exorcisms later said that the child never spoke any languages other than mimicking back Latin that had been repeatedly thrown at him for weeks and pig latin. He did not show any kind of super human strength and his voice did not change when “speaking as the demon”. The “vulgar language” was that of an early teen, using the term “willy” and “pecker”. The same priest stated that he was not accustomed to filthy language in regular life, but interviews conducted by others with his childhood friends told a different story of a boy with a foul mouth. The priest also said none of the markings were recognizable as words or images and that while there was a lot of spitting (something the child had made a game of prior to these events) he could not recall vomiting or urination even though some was recorded in the “diary”. Of course this now deceased priest has been known to say things that are convenient for whatever camera was pointing at him, so his statements have to be taken with a grain of salt. I prefer his off camera comments, the ones he probably wasn’t getting paid for.  I find it fascinating that any time the child was at the Alexian Brothers hospital, a facility well equipped for handling troublesome people, the behavior recorded in the diary changed dramatically and was not as “theatrical”.

There are very classic “signs” taught in demonology courses. This is the list that was presented in the one I took:

  • Loss of consciousness, losing time
  • Speaking in languages the possessed has never learned
  • Exhibiting signs of unnatural strength
  • The ability to know what is hidden or unknown
  • Telekinesis
  • Aversion to holy objects and water
  • Speaking in a voice that is physically impossible
  • Inability to pray
  • Violence towards oneself and others
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Loss of appetite
  • Acts of self-humiliation
  • Nightmares
  • Destruction of religious objects
  • Swearing that is out of character

In reading the diary several things stand out very clearly

  • He was always hungry and ate well
  • The only time he spoke another language was when he mimicked latin phrases already said to him
  • Voice did not change to one that was physically impossible for him
  • No acts of self-humiliation
  • Did not destroy religious objects
  • He used bad language, but it has been found to be in his character
  • With the exception to a hidden treasure map (which is never indicated if it was looked for or not) there was no knowledge of the unknown exhibited

Much of the pre-show “hype” stated that the Bishop was going to exorcise the house. Many of us questioned that since a house cannot be exorcised but he continued to reiterate that is what he was doing. In an internet radio show he did after the event to “address concerns of viewers” he again stated multiple times that it was not a house blessing, it was an exorcism of the home. (This radio program has since disappeared from the internet, it wasn’t even up long up for archive.org to grab it, but it was originally here: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/inspireradionetwork/2015/11/02/exorcism-live–bishop-longs-perspective)

The Haunted Boy

The Haunted Boy

In 2010 a “documentary” about this case was produced called the Haunted Boy. In the version of this that I was able to track down and watch, there is an interesting segment where the Bishop is being interviewed where he totally contradicts the pre-show hype:

Interviewer: Can you give a house an exorcism?

Bishop: You don’t exorcise homes, what you do is you go into the home and do the blessing of the of the home, the blessing of the rooms, you do the epiphany of the doors, and you bless every single room and basically what you do if there is a true demonic infestation you trap the demonic into one particular room and then the entity will manifest itself. You perform the exorcism on the entity.

This “documentary” also presented several other things that are suspect. They include a whole section about St. Vincent’s Asylum, making it look like part of the exorcism rites were performed there. There is not one single mention of this place in the diary. There is also an interview with the current homeowner where he states that the very first time he saw the house was June 6, 2006. This is definitely another fabrication of para entertainment as public tax records recorded in deed book #16963 page #1049 show he purchased the home December 13, 2005. And lets not forget the blurb that is put on the screen that says “actual exorcism audio archive”. While it is entirely possible the sounds they are playing ARE audio from an exorcism, it is worded in such a way to make your brain quickly think its from THIS exorcism and it is not.  There are no audio recordings from the 1949 case.  It sounds a lot like the audio I have heard from the Anneliese Michel case, but I don’t know that for a fact.

In another segment, a paranormal investigator talks about how he’s afraid of the house. On Ghost Adventures episode S08E07 (2013) this investigator claims he has not been back in the house since he were attacked in 2009 and that he is terrified of it, yet sources show this same investigator ran ticketed tours in that house in 2011.

Cover Letter of the Case Study (Diary)

Cover Letter of the Case Study (Diary)

The timeline of the rites of exorcism performed from 3/16/1949 to 4/18/1949 as recorded in the diary everyone says they get their information from shows the following (and please note there is absolutely no reference to St. Vincent’s Asylum):

3/16, 18, 19, 20 St. Louis House
3/21 Alexian Brothers Hospital
3/22 St. Louis House
3/23, 24, 25 College Church Rectory
4/1 St. Louis House
4/1 Catholic Baptism & Rite – College Church Rectory
4/3 St. Louis House
4/7, 8 Undisclosed location Maryland
4/10- 4/18 Alexian Brothers Hospital

That is 21 times the rite was performed (according to the diary) and it breaks down like this
7 were done in the St. Louis house
4 were done in the College Church Rectory
2 were done in Maryland
8 were done at the Alexian Brothers Hospital

That is 4 separate locations where the Rite was performed and he was pronounced demon free after the final one at the hospital.

It is interesting to note this diary entry on the day of liberation:

“Next Father O’Flaherty began teaching R the first half of the Ave Maria in Latin because R had expressed a real interest in Latin. In the space of fifteen minutes R could recite a good portion of the prayer unassisted. After the memory lesson Father O’Flaherty told R the complete story of Our Lady of Fatima to which R paid strict attention. A little later he asked for a Catholic reader containing eighth grade prose and poetry, and then thumbed through several stories as he sat in bed. Finally, in a boyish way he took to balancing the book on his knees and on his head.”

Personally I would love to get my hands on a copy of the reader that was given to him because his “story” at the end certainly sounds like it could have been culled from it. When the “devil” had been cast out he relayed this to the priests

“He said there was a brilliant white light and in that light stood a very beautiful man, with flowing wavy hair that blew in the breeze. He wore a white robe that fitted close to his body. The material gave the impression of scales. Only the upper half of the body of this man was visible to R. In his right hand he held up a wavy and fiery sword in front of him. With his left hand he pointed down to a pit or cave. R said he saw the devil standing in the cave. R felt the heat from the cave and saw the flames. First the devil fought, resisting the angel and laughing diabolically. Then the angel smiled at R and spoke, but R heard only the one word “Dominus”. As the angel spoke, the devil and about ten of his helpers ran back into the fire of the cave or pit. After the devil disappeared the letters “Spite” appeared on the bars of the cave.”

After that, all appeared normal with both the house and the child.  There were no reports of activity at the house in St. Louis, nor the house in Maryland.  The child grew up to be a noted (in his circles) productive member of society and claims to have no memories of that time in his turbulent teens. Life was normal, or at least as normal as it could have been for him. It was normal until the 1970s when The Exorcist was released upon the masses and because Mr. Blatty stated it was inspired by a true story the world set out on a mission to find the real story. A story which sadly has been fictionalized just as much as Mr. Blatty’s book all in the name of the “paranormal”.

As I stated earlier, it is not my job to convince you whether or not the child was possessed or if the house is “evil”. It is my job to provide you with factual information surrounding the case and let you make up your own mind. In the end, I think the one thing we can agree upon is that what can be said of the “exorcist” house is that it surely does seem to make a whole lot of people forget their acquaintance with the truth.

Pearl Bryan 1874-1896

head

Where is Pearl’s Head?

The last decade of the 1800s was a murderous one. Bloody Victorian crimes were making sensational headlines and adding to the coffers of newspaper owners. In 1896, coming off the heels of the Borden murders and H.H. Holmes, a murder occurred that encompassed 3 states and just about every newspaper in the nation carried the saga, some of it bordering on tabloidism just so they could have something in print. Along with the “normal” murder case betrayal and lies, it included unrequited love, chemistry, conspiracy for a criminal operation, feticide, mobs making a mad dash to collect muderabilia, monies made from crime scene touring, a fetus in a peppermint stick jar, and a manhunt for a head. The 21st century sees people adding even more fantastical details that keep what was once deemed the “crime of the century” in the headlines and keep it a money making business.

There is no way of knowing how many thousands of people have paid to investigate Bobby Mackey’s Music World in Wilder, KY; and there is no way of knowing how many of those people did their own research before going instead of listening to the urban legends that are told in books and tv shows about the location. A lot of money has been made since a book published in 2001 made the first untrue claim that it had been a place of satanic worship in the 1800s. The snowball effect had been started and it gets bigger every day. Patrons and paranormal investigators have had lies that line the pockets of “parastars”, book publishers, and tv producers shoved down their throats for decades; and it makes me wonder why the majority people seem to care so little for the truth of what actually happened.

The basic story told today regarding the Pearl Bryan murder goes something like this: Pearl Bryan was pregnant with Scott Jackson’s baby. She wanted to get married and he tricked her into coming to Cincinnati from Greencastle, IN. When she arrived, he and Alonzo Walling murdered her and because they were members of a satanic cult, they beheaded her and threw her head down a well located in the basement of an abandoned slaughterhouse as a blood sacrifice. Bloodhounds used in other famous cases were brought in and they tracked Pearl’s scent to the same slaughterhouse. Refusing to tell anyone what had really happened, they stood on the scaffold the day they were hung and threatened to come back and haunt everyone.

Would you like to take a guess how much of the above is true? Four things. In order for you to understand what those four things are, I need to clear up some misconceptions for you.

Long before I became a paranormal investigator, I was fascinated by true crime. The Borden murder case was the catalyst for that love. I read and studied everything I could get my hands on about any horrible true crime that occurred, and Pearl’s case was no exception. Imagine my surprise the very first time I saw a ghost show that purported she had been part of a satanic ritual.

kentucky post 11/2/1915

Before we go much further, I need you to understand that I am in NO way saying the property that is known as Bobby Mackey’s Music World is not haunted, quite the opposite. Things have occurred on that property that could definitely lead to restless spirits. Not long after the civil war, this area of Finchtown, as it was called then, was known as Gallows Gap because of all the illegal lynchings (at least 20) that took place there. A bridge collapse one quarter mile from the property killed over 40 people in 1892. People were reporting spooks in that area long before folks  associated with Bobby Mackey were.

 

finchtownIf you look at a map of Finchtown, it shows that the slaughter house that was located in the southwest part of the town, was not where Bobby Mackey’s Music World stands today, it was several hundred feet south of there. It was not even a commercial slaughter house. It was a small home operated by a local butcher to serve the local residents. Research done by Dan Smith, author of Ghosts of Bobby Mackey’s Music World, corroborates my own and shows the distillery built by George Roberson Jr once stood where Mackey’s establishment is at.

 

 

old 76 distillery

Roberson’s Distillery on the Licking River

In 1876 Roberson applied for, and obtained permission to dig three tunnels, under the railroad, from the distillery to the Licking River. These tunnels were used to pump water into the structure for the distilling process. All three of these tunnels are still in existence and one of them is what has been deemed the “well to hell”.

newport1874

A careful study of satanic cults, their whereabouts, and their activities over the ages, show that none existed in any part of Campbell county in the late 1800s and since there was no slaughterhouse with a well to hell at that particular place on the property, added to the fact that the distillery was in full operation when Pearl was murdered, we can safely say that no part of Pearl was ever disposed of there. In fact, if you read personal accounts of the witnesses at the hanging, Alonzo Walling never once gave the crowd the “evil eye” and Scott Jackson never uttered words even remotely hinting that he would haunt anyone.

“Jackson was described as standing erect and playing the part of an actor. Walling trembled with his eyes downcast. At that point, Jackson was again asked if he had anything to say. An eyewitness said, “Jackson hesitated fully two moments before he replied. Before he spoke, Walling turned expectantly evidently believing Jackson would speak the words that would save his life, even while he stood on the brink of death. Walling had half turned around and he stood in that position with an appealing expression on his face, while Jackson without looking at him, upturned his eyes and replied, ‘I have only this to say, that I am not guilty of the crime for which I am now compelled to pay the penalty of my life.”

Walling was then asked if he had any comments. He said, “Nothing, only that you are taking the life of an innocent man and I will call upon God to witness the truth of what I say.”

Newspaper accounts of the day, and interviews conducted with people having grown up learning about the murder have proven that nothing about “Satanists” was ever mentioned until about 2001 when the first of two books, with other inaccurate information, was published.

Anyone that reads any story from any paper in the nation in 1896 and 1897 will never find the words “haunt” or “satanic cult” or “slaughterhouse” mentioned. The modern day stories of Scott and Alonzo simply are not true.

What is true? What happened to Pearl? Was she really the poor farm girl people try to make her out to be? Not at all.

bryan home

Bryan Home on Road 43

Pearl Bryan was one of 12 children born to Alexander and Susan Farrow Bryan. She was born somewhere between 1872 and 1874 in Greencastle, Indiana, the 2nd to youngest child and the last daughter. Alexander was a very well to do farmer, stock breeder, and dairy business operator. The Bryan family had high social standing in their community. None of the financial collapses of the 19th century seemed to ever affect the family and they even survived the diphtheria outbreak unscathed, but by the beginning of the 20th century, half of their children would be dead. The causes included: consumption, brain fever, a tragic folding bed accident, and of course murder.

 

The_Topeka_Daily_Capital_Sat__Mar_11__1899_

Article on folding bed accident 3/11/1899

 

The_Leavenworth_Times_Thu__Mar_16__1899_

Folding bed accident update 3/16/1899

 

The_Topeka_Daily_Capital_Fri__Mar_31__1899_

Folding Bed Death 3/31/1899

 

pearl 1892

Pearl 1892

 

arbor day 1891Pearl was very active in the community, at church, and school. In a lot of articles about her, I see it said that the portrait from 1892 above is the only known photograph of her, but this photo shows the arbor day celebrations in 1891 and she is shown in the second row from the bottom, 9th person from the left.

This photo from PALNI purports that Pearl is in this photo from 1886, but does not specify which one is her. I have seen it said that she is the girl sitting right above the Z in the sign, but cannot prove it. She would have been 12-14 in this picture.

Photo from PALNI

This is the Greencastle High School graduating class of 1892 and the original photograph that the single portrait above was taken from. After graduation, Pearl taught Sunday school at the Methodist church and helped raise the young children left motherless by the deaths of her sisters.

class of 1892

Greencastle Highschool Class of 1892

In the spring of 1895 Pearl met Scott Jackson and her fate was sealed. He had moved to Greencastle with his mother, who was trying to hide the fact that he had been in serious trouble for embezzling from the railroad and disorderly conduct involving a prostitute, which got him kicked out of dental college in Indianapolis. They moved in with Scott’s sister and he got an interim job working for the town dentist while waiting for the fall quarter of the dental college in Cincinnati to start.

Not long after moving to Greencastle, Scott met William Wood, Pearl’s cousin. William introduced them, and soon Bert (Pearl) and Dusty (Scott), as they were known to their closest friends were courting. Right before Scott left for school in October, he and Pearl became intimately involved. After he left for Cincinnati, Pearl discovered she was pregnant and that Scott had never had any intention of marrying her.

Western Union agent A.W. Early testified that on several occasions in the months leading up to her murder, Scott and William had exchanged correspondence that included various recipes for concoctions to induce a miscarriage that he and roommate Alonzo Walling had come up with. Pearl tried all of these unsuccessfully and after a meeting with Scott during the Christmas holiday’s where he once again refused to marry her, they came up with a plan for her to come to Ohio for a criminal operation, otherwise known as an abortion.

The plan was for Pearl to tell her parents that she was going to visit a childhood friend that had moved to Indianapolis, but she would secretly go to Cincinnati instead. William put her on a train on January 28th and that was the last time he saw her alive.

Testimony from various witnesses says that for the next 3 days Scott continued to try to play the chemist and give her drugs that would cause her to abort without the actual procedure being done. A druggist from a local pharmacy stated that he had sold Scott a large amount of cocaine (legal at the time) and a bartender at Wallingford’s Saloon testified that he had seen Scott mix something in her drink early in the evening the night she was killed. Her autopsy would show that she did ingest a substantial amount of the drug shortly before death. The cocaine did not work as planned and late that night they hired a black man by the name of George Jackson to drive a carriage they had rented. This would be Pearl’s last ride.

It would be important to the case later when George testified that the female he had never seen the face of, was alive during the trip. Days after the murder, George came forward to the police to tell them he had been the one to drive the trio from Cincinnati, OH to Fort Thomas, KY. Although some people doubted his testimony, he was put through every test possible to validate his claims, including detectives and reporters recreating the drive.

driving route

George Jackson’s account of the driving route Alonzo Walling instructed him on

George stated that he had been hired on Elm street to drive. He left Elm street, turned left on 3rd street, right on Broadway and crossed the Central bridge. When they had crossed into Kentucky, the route went from 3rd street to Central Ave, to Chestnut St, Isabella St, Keturah St, and Patterson St. He got scared because of Pearl’s moaning in the back of the carriage and pulled over at the Distillery on Licking Pike (this is the closest Pearl would come to being at Bobby Mackey’s property). He tried to refuse to go any further, but he testified that Alonzo jumped in the driver’s seat with him and pulled out a gun, forcing him to continue by saying “You black bastard, if you try to jump out here, I’ll send you to hell”. They proceeded on, eventually ending up on Alexandria Pike and eventually Grandview Ave where John Locke’s farm was located.

precincts map

1883 Precinct map showing the Locke Property

Scott and Alonzo dragged Pearl out of the carriage and into the dark. George took off running, damaging the lantern on the carriage in the process, when he heard Pearl scream and he didn’t look back. A later investigation would indeed turn up the correct carriage with the damaged lantern.

When Pearl’s body was discovered at the Locke farm the next morning, all hell broke loose. The coroner would later testify that Pearl had been alive when she was decapitated, because arterial spray was found on leaves as high as 3 feet (some papers reported 6 feet) and the ground was soaked at least 3 inches deep with her blood. That would not have been possible if she had been dead, as Scott tried to claim later, when her head was cut off. Mobs of people swarmed the area looking to take anything from the scene as a keepsake, including the bloody leaves. Entrepreneurs set up vendor stands in the area selling things as well. Pearl’s murder did and still does line a lot of pockets. Her unborn 5 month old fetus ended up in a jar that had held peppermint sticks at a drug store and people paid to be able to look at it.

crime scene

Crime scene photo showing Pearl after she had been moved by the coroner

Long story short, Pearl was finally identified because of the shoes she was wearing and Scott and Alonzo were arrested in Ohio. It had to be officially determined where she was killed to know which state was going to prosecute the case. Ohio and Kentucky had different laws pertaining the death of Pearl’s unborn child, with Kentucky’s laws being more stringent.

It took 6 days to identify Pearl and arrest Scott, Alonzo, and William. Afterwards, the family and detectives tried in vain to get Scott and Alonzo to tell them what they had done with her head. They would never get a straight answer from them. But two different people testified about the Scott carrying around Pearl’s valise the day after she was killed and asking them to store it. Originally it was weighted and the bartender at Wallingford’s had joking asked if it had a bowling ball in it because “the weight rolled around”.

Investigations in Cincinnati had turned up a lot of bloody clothing items that the pair had discarded amongst the various sewers drains in the city, but they never found a head. From witness testimony concerning the timeline of Scott’s activities with the valise, which contained hair and blood stains, Detective Cal Crim surmised and was of the belief, until the day he died, that Scott had brought the head back from Fort Thomas in the valise, taken it to the dental collage and cremated it in the furnace in the cadaver room. Back then dental students worked on dead people, and parts of them were sometimes burned afterwards in that furnace, so it was certainly hot enough to destroy her head. Pearl’s family had to bury her headless and for decades after the murder, people would find skulls and be convinced they had at last found her head, but none were ever proven to be hers.

Scott & Alonzo volleyed back and forth on who actually killed Pearl, and it was never really settled, but popular opinion was that it was Scott. We do know that Scott was involved by his possession of the valise and a letter that was intercepted before it reached William Wood:

Hello, Bill

Write a letter home signed by Bert’s name telling the folks that he is somewhere & going to Chicago or some other place – has a position etc – and that they will advise later about it – Say tired of living at home or anything you want. Send it to someone you can trust – How about Will Smith at LaFayette – tell the folks that he has not been at I[dianapolis] but at LaFayette and traveling about the country. Get the letter off without one seconds delay and burn this at once. Stick by your old chum bill and I will help you out the same way sometimes. Am glad you are having a good time

D.[usty]

Be careful what you write to me

Arthur Carter’s famous bloodhounds were called in to help locate the rest of her and did indeed pick up a scent eventually, but the trail went in the opposite direction of the distillery to the Covington Reservoir. Over $2000 was spent to dredge and drain this location to no avail. Nothing was found other than bloody handprints on a cistern.

covington waterworks 1903

Covington Waterworks 1903

covington reservoir

Location of the Covington Reservoir & Bobby Mackey’s

Scott and Alonzo were both convicted of the murder and hung on March 20, 1897. Their death was slow and painful because necks did not break during the hanging and they both took quite a while to die of asphyxiation.

Many song ballads have been written about poor Pearl, but they are not really accurate to the facts in the case, up to and including Bobby Mackey’s own original tune. The valise that she brought to Cincinnati with her, that blood and hair proves carried her head, is on display in a museum along with some other artifacts of the case. Her poor baby, floating in a preservative in a candy jar, was lost after a time and never got a proper burial.

I am not saying that Pearl does not haunt somewhere. She would certainly have every reason to do so, especially now with so many misconceptions being thrown about let alone such a traumatic death, but she has no reason to be haunting an area that she, nor any of her body parts had ever been, and is 4 miles away from where she lost her life.

Please remember that next time you pay your good money to investigate the property at 44 Licking Pike in Wilder KY and show her the respect she is due.

The Real Story of Cold Mountain (William Pinkney Inman 1840-1865)

Pink & John's Grave

What a lot of you might know, is that many years ago a book was written (by my cousin) about a soldier’s odyssey during the civil war called Cold Mountain. Eventually, it would be turned into a movie with Jude Law playing the character of my uncle. What a lot of you don’t know is that decades before that, I had a school project involving family history and the family story I focused on is one that would fuel my passion for genealogy and historical research until the day I die. The book/movie took real people and their lives and fictionalized it, because in all honesty, the only things that are the same are the name of the main character and the fact that he was a soldier in the civil war and was shot on top of a mountain.

In the movie the beautiful (if you like those kind of looks), but the useless Ada Monroe (played by Nicole Kidman) moves to “Cold Mountain” with her preacher father where the town is conveniently building a church which leads to many an awkward run in between Inman and Ada where little conversation is actually exchanged.  Evidently she just looked great carrying around trays of drinks. In actuality this church was not built until 1902, when Pink had been in his grave 37 years.Inman's Chapel

We spend the first half of the movie being “convinced” these non conversations have the two of them falling so madly in love that when Inman gets wounded at Petersburg he spends way longer than it should have taken, trying to get home to her. The second half of the movie shows us just how useless Ada is while being berated (brilliantly) by Ruby Thewes for all her short comings. I have to stop and say right here, that the casting of Renee Zellweger in this part was masterful, there are still women up there today just like Ruby, and they scare the pants off of me! We get to enjoy Inman’s (mis)adventures on his way home which provides us with more than the token amount of nudity and makes you ask yourself, “remind me why he’s going home to that waste of space Ada?”

***Spoiler Alert*** Inman makes it back home, they manage to have time to shave his beard AND have sex before the token albino shoots him dead in a scene straight out of a wishing well (yes, I know Charlie Hunnam is not an albino, but they HAD to do something to try to “out goth” Jack White didn’t they?) In the end we see that the all too brief pre-buckshot carnal relations high on that mountain result in a child and everyone else lives happily ever after. At least he died without that awful awful beard.

Now that we have recapped the fiction, please indulge me, and allow me to tell you a little of the real story that encompasses over 30 years of genealogy research and lead up to the investigation that David and I did on a gorgeous fall afternoon in October of 2013.

Bethel Cemetery

Waynesville, NC is a western mountain town and just a little east of that is a town named Canton. My family on my daddy’s side is from both of these towns. My 3rd great grandfather, Daniel Logan Inman (born 1827) was one of many children as was his wife Elizabeth Swanger. These families intermarried and were close friends. Daniel had a brother whose full name was William Pinkney Inman (this would be the “Inman” portrayed by Mr. Law) and was known as Pink. Elizabeth had a brother named John Swanger and though the movie completely leaves him out (even though they included a Swanger family), the real tale involves John just as much as it does Pink.

Both men did their duty and enlisted to serve the Confederacy in 1861. John was older than most at 37, and used his trade as a blacksmith with the 19th Regiment in the 2nd Cavalry. Pink was a 22 year old farmer and he enlisted as a private in the 25th NC Infantry. John was in just a few short months before he became disabled and was discharged. Pink was in and out over the course of several years, meaning that he would go AWOL and then return for awhile and then go AWOL again. He was wounded at the Battle of Malvern Hill in July 1862 and spent some time in the hospital. During his time in service and his subsequent desertions, Pink and Margaret Henson were married and their child, Willie Ida Inman,  was born in August of 1864. Around the time of her birth, Pink was wounded in Petersburg and put in a hospital in Danville. He left the hospital and Confederate service for the last time and headed home. It was the events starting at that time that would be both his and John’s downfall.

We know from history that the union army took the town of Knoxville, TN in 1863, and we know from a biography published from his journals in 2002 that a man from Haywood County (where both Waynesville and Canton are) named Samuel Massey worked as a Union recruiter. He was a southern man paid to convince southern men to join the Union army, and he was good at it. At some point after John was discharged from the Confederate army he joined up with Massey, taking men over the NC mountains into Knoxville to sign them into Union service.

Standing on Big StompAfter Pink came home, he joined in John and Sam’s endeavors to add to the numbers of the Unionists and in the winter of 1864 they made several trips. Sworn testimony by several men at a congressional hearing of the fiftieth congress for Sam’s federal pension application shows that at one point General Carter in Knoxville asked Sam to take his men and go break his cousin and nephew out of the Waynesville jail and this was the beginning of the end for Pink and John. They gathered some additional men and headed back home, with John carrying recruiting orders from General Carter.

 

Congressional Record

The outcome of the trip included betrayal by one of John’s cousins, a cat and mouse chase over the mountains, and the deaths of my uncles, Pink & John. Over 100 Confederate soldiers chased Sam and his men trying to capture or kill them. Pink and John, exhausted after a day long battle over the rugged mountain terrain, were overtaken and brutally shot while their hands were in the air, their bodies left in the woods like wild animals not fit to eat. Sam and most of his other men got away, but they did not get a chance to perpetrate the jail break.

This is an excerpt from an article in the Waynesville Mountain Courier in 1919

Waynesville Mtn Courier

Various versions of family stories say that someone that lived on the mountain found Pink & John’s bodies and got word to Pink’s father who lived at the bottom of the mountain. He dragged a sled up the mountain, through the snow to recover them and bring them a mile back down to the cemetery he himself would later be buried in. He dug a hole and buried them together in an unmarked grave, leaving them to return to the earth and their story to be mistold and finally forgotten for over 140 years, until the dogged perseverance of myself and my mother ferreted out the truth amid the rumors and eventually the “movie hype”.

Shannon @ the Big Stomp Site

Dave @ the Big Stomp Site

Dave and I have been to that high spot on the mountain where they were shot and I have made numerous trips to the cemetery they are buried in.

 

Shannon conducting GPRIn 2012 I took GPR equipment to validate the rumored location of the grave and I did successfully confirm that it did indeed contain the remains of two people.GPR Results

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just remember the next time you read a book or see a movie “based on real people”, it is never what actually happened, dramatic license kills any chance of that. Maybe it is because I am a descendant of this family, maybe it is my passion for the historical truth or maybe it is a combination of the two, but I have a drive for Pink’s real story, the good and the bad to be told, and it does not include Philip Seymour Hoffman running around in his long johns, although that part was very amusing, and if it happened now it would definitely be worth of investigating, since he’s dead.

 

Lavinia Fisher 1793-1820

Old Charleston Jail - 1864

Old Charleston Jail – 1864

Most anyone who is the slightest bit interested in “ghost hunting” has heard of Lavinia Fisher and her exploits outside the city of Charleston, SC and at the Old Jail, but in case you haven’t, let me give you a rundown of the “facts” that are given on true crime blogs, ghost hunting shows, haunted location shows, and ghost tours.

It goes something like this:

Lavinia Fisher was America’s first female serial killer and the first woman executed in America (how is that for history making!). She, along with her husband John, were arrested, tried and convicted of mass murder and hung at the Old Charleston Jail. Wearing her wedding dress (and a noose), she shouted, “If any of you have a message for the devil, say it now for I shall see him in a moment” and flung herself off the platform before the hangman could perform the duties for which he would be paid in alcohol (good thing it wasn’t tea).

Lavinia and John were innkeepers who drugged their patrons with a special tea (rumored to be oleander) and secreted them down into their cellar via hidden trapdoors in the bedrooms to murder them (the number of victims varies). One man, John Peebles (or Peoples), a weary traveler looking for a bed for the night, was almost a victim. 

After sharing a late dinner with the Fishers, Mr Peebles retired to his room and a short time later Lavinia brought him some  of her “special” tea to help him sleep. He did not like tea, but he probably did not want to offend his host so he dumped it out of the window when she was not looking (She was probably trying to make sure the bed was in the proper position for her nefarious plan).  Mr. Peebles was concerned about personal questions the Fishers had asked during dinner and it occurred to him that he might have said too much and they might attempt to rob him, so instead of going to bed he decided to wait out the night sitting in a chair. A little while later, he was stunned to see his bed disappear (and the tea cannot be blamed). Mr. Peebles escaped out the same window and ran to the police to make a report (we have no record if he was tea stained or not). The sheriff hastened to the inn and during the investigation he found a cellar with hidden tunnels full personal belongings from those that had been reported missing and approximately 100 skeletons.

They were tried in May of 1819 and convicted of murder and sentenced to hang. They were housed in the jail until they were hung in February of 1820 and they were buried in the Unitarian Church Cemetery in Charleston.

Maybe she isn’t as ‘at rest’ as she should be? It is reported that Lavina is one nasty spirit that not only haunts the Old Charleston Jail, but attacks people as well.

I think we can agree this is basically the story most of you are familiar with can’t we?

What would you say if I told you that there are only 3 facts in that tale that are actually true? Will you call me a paranormal blasphemer or will you save handing down a judgment that is just as unfair as the one passed on Lavinia and hear me out? Yes? Well let’s begin.

There are no genealogy records for the family of Lavinia, but we can use records from John, newspapers of the time, and actual court documents that can be found in the state archives to set this story straight.

Because we know Lavinia’s reported age at the time of her death, we can say she was born sometime in 1792/1793. This is a close to any “fact” about her vital records as we can come. There are no birth or marriage records for her and John. We have no way of knowing what her maiden name was or where she was born. All we really know about her is that in 1819 she and her husband were inn keepers at an establishment outside of the city of Charleston and that they had no living children.

There are two portraits that circulate the internet claiming to be Lavinia.  Let me assure you neither one is, they are both of a woman named Kitty Fisher, born Catherine Marie Fischer (1741-1767) and she was a famous British courtesan. The one of her with the parrot was painted by Joshua Reynolds around 1763 and the one with her and her kitten was painted by Nathaniel Hone around 1765.

Kitty with Parrot by Joshua Reynolds 1763

Kitty with Parrot by Joshua Reynolds 1763

Kitty Fisher by Nathaniel Hone 1765

Kitty Fisher by Nathaniel Hone 1765

In January & February of 1819 the area around Charleston was riddled with highway robbers but the victims could never identify their attackers. A group of men from the city decided these robbers were staying at local inns and they formed a mob to drive them away.

On February 16th 1819 the vigilante group set upon Five Mile Inn and told the group there that they had to vacate the property. When the group refused to leave, the mob burned the inn to the ground. They then proceeded to the Six Mile Inn, operated by John & Lavinia Fisher. They gave the same commands and the group there decided it was best if they vacated the building. The mob left a man named David Ross at the inn to keep watch and this is where things start to go south for the Fishers.

According to an affidavit (that can be accessed at the SC Dept of Archives) sworn to by Mr. Ross, several people came back to the inn and proceeded to get physical with him and then kick him out of the house. Mr. Ross came back inside to get his belongings and Lavinia proceeded to choke him and put his head through a window. Two other men, William Heyward and John Fisher beat him with loaded whips. Mr. Ross managed to escape up the road and missed the bullets being fired upon him.

A few hours after Mr. Ross escaped, a man named John Peoples stopped to water his horse at the Six Mile Inn. According to HIS sworn account, he was beaten and robbed by the ten people there before he too managed to escape back to town.

After a judge received these two affidavits, the sheriff, accompanied by a large group of men proceeded to the Six Mile Inn, subsequently arrested the five remaining occupants and sent them to the city jail in the paddy wagon. The sheriff conducted an investigation of the property and found the remains of a dead cow (which a neighbor had recently reported stolen). After his investigation was complete, the inn with all its contents and all buildings on the property were burned to the ground.

Remember that last sentence, it is important to the story.

About a week later the coroner went to the property because someone reported a “fresh grave”. He did indeed find one and in that grave were two bodies. One was a man that had been shot and had died about 8 days earlier. The other was a black woman that had been buried about 2 years prior. It is supposed the man was part of one of the previous raids and he had been buried in the grave of a slave that had been hastily dug back open. In the years since, this property has been dug up for construction and these are the only two bodies ever found.

The Fishers and William Heyward were indicted for “assault with intent to murder” against David Ross on May 10, 1819. On May 27th they were found guilty and on June 2nd they were sentenced to hang. They of course wanted to appeal their case so they were bound over to the gaol, as it was known then, until January when the appeals court would be in session.

On January 17th 1820 John and Lavinia had their day in court and something puzzling happened. The Charleston Courier reported that not only had their appeal for a new trial been denied, they had now been convicted of highway robbery against John Peoples and sentenced to hang. Yes, you read that right, their former conviction completely changed from assault against David Ross to highway robbery against John Peoples. John and Lavinia Fisher were hanged for a crime they had never been tried and convicted for.

On February 18th 1820, Lavinia, who even at this time thought she was going to receive a pardon because surely they would not hang a white woman, and John put the white gowns known as “garments of the condemned” over their own clothes and were loaded in a wagon and taken away from the jail to the hanging site on Meeting Street Road, with Lavinia fighting every step of the way.

As reported in the Charleston newspaper, the place of the hanging was “at the lines on Meeting Street Road”. This was around the area of present day Line Street, which as you can see by this map, is over a mile from the jail.

Present day map of Charleston

Present day map of Charleston

Once on the gallows, no matter how much comforting John tried to do, an extremely agitated Lavinia responded to Rev. Galluchat’s call for repentance with the words that would cement her place in Charlestonian history: “ Cease, I will have none of it. Save your words for others that want them. But if you have a message you want to send to Hell give it to me; I’ll carry it.”

When the sheriff assured her no pardon was coming, Lavinia cried out to God in panic and eventually made her peace. John addressed the crowd, asking forgiveness from those he had wronged and forgave his accusers, finally, he once again proclaimed his and his wife’s innocence.

A letter was then read to the crowd: (click link to see a copy of the newspaper article)

Rev. and Dear sir – The appointed day has arrived – the moment soon to come, which will finish my earthly career; and it behooves me, for the last time, to address you and the Rev. Gentlemen associated in your pious care.

For your exertions in explaining the mysteries of our Holy Religion, and the merits of our dear Redeemer; for pious sympathy, and benevolent regards as concerns our immortal souls, accept Sir, for yourself, and them, the last benediction of the unfortunate – God, in his infinite mercy, reward you all.

In a few moments, and the world to me shall have passed away – before the Throne of the Eternal Majesty of Heaven I must stand – shall then, at this dreadful hour, my confused, agitated lips, still proclaim a falsehood? No! then by that Awful Majesty I swear, I am innocent.

May the Redeemer of the world plead for those who have sworn away my life.

To the unfortunate, the voice of condolence is sweet – the language of commiseration delightful – these feelings I have experienced in the society of Mr. ________; a stranger, he rejected not our prayer; unknown, he shut not his ear to our supplication; he has alleviated our sorrows- May God bless him. He has wept with us – May Angels rejoice with him at a Throne of Glory.

Enclosed, Sir, is a key that secretes my little all – Give it to him and say for me, as he deserted me not while living, I hope he will discharge my last request. How my property is to be disposed of, he will find explained in a paper within my trunk, to which is attached a Schedule of the whole. I only wish him to see it removed to a place of safety, until to whom it is given shall call for it. The hour is come!

Farewell, Sir, Farewell:

JOHN FISHER

Execution Article

Execution Article

At a little past 2 o’clock in the afternoon, with their nooses around their necks, John and Lavinia hugged each other for the last time. Caps were then placed over their faces and the hangman released the trapdoor.

Lavinia died instantly without a sound, but it took John several minutes. Their bodies were left hanging for the time required and then removed from the area and buried in Potters Field.

Does this sound anything like what they tell you on the ghost shows? If I have not lost your interest, you will remember that I said the popular story had only 3 facts in it. Those facts would be: John & Lavinia were innkeepers, they were sentenced to hang, and Lavinia did say words that she probably wished she hadn’t.

Let’s look at other parts of the story.

Lavinia was American’s first serial killer and the first woman executed in America. Since Lavinia did not murder anyone she is hardly a serial killer and she was not the first woman executed. That claim to fame belongs to a woman named Jane Champion, who was hung for an unknown charge in 1632. If not knowing the charge makes you want to discount her, that’s ok. There are 35 other women you can choose from that were executed before Lavinia was.

 

Lavinia and John were never convicted of murdering anyone much less a hundred people. When they were hung it was not at the jail and it was while wearing the traditional hanging outfit, not her wedding dress. If you remember their home was burned to the ground with all their belongings almost as soon as they were arrested, how could she have been wearing her wedding dress?

John Peoples was not a guest at the inn, he was a man that had stopped to water his horse and was robbed.

Yes, Lavinia had an outburst, but she died having made her peace with her fate and with God and was buried in a paupers cemetery, not in consecrated ground.

Today, we have no way of knowing where Lavinia and John are. Potter’s Field ceased to exist in 1825 and there is no way to know if their bodies were ever dug up and relocated or if they were just covered up with buildings for the arsenal, military school, or medical university.

We know from the application to be listed on the national historic register that Potters field was located on Ashely street. In 1825 it became the Federal Arsenal and in 1880 the Porter Military School and in the 1960s it became the Medical University of SC.

pottersfield

Federal Arsenal 1838

Federal Arsenal 1838

Porter Military Academy 1895

Porter Military Academy 1895

Research is not always cheap, you have all the costs associated with traveling to another place to visit state archives and actual locations and I have spent a long time researching this one. A gentleman by the name of Bruce Orr recently wrote a book, Six Miles From Charleston, and it seems that his research mirrors a lot of my own, but he did come up with one very interesting fact that I missed, and I have to admit that I am jealous he found this bread trail. You can read the book to get all the details, but suffice it to say that Lavinia’s statement about “not hanging a white woman” is curious in light of this new possible lead.

It seems that John’s uncle paid 700 dollars for two female slaves, one who had the very unusual name of Lavinia. Depending on the genetics, it is entirely possible that the slave Lavinia could have passed for close to white if she had been mulatto. Did John and slave Lavinia fall in love, move to the low country and present themselves as man and wife? Witness statements describe John’s wife as “darker”. Did this mean she was a tan woman or maybe not 100% white.

These actual facts are things that investigators need to keep in mind when they pay their fee to investigate at the Old Charleston Jail, maybe, just maybe, if you are sympathetic to her and not condemning her, you might have better results and less hostility in your investigation.

Does Lavinia haunt the gaol that was her home for the better part of a year as an intelligent spirit? If she does, could it be that her anger and resentment are because of all the lies being told about her? This woman was denied justice in the colonial system, hung for a crime she was not tried for. In modern times she has been accused of being a witch and in league with the devil. She may not have been the most upstanding of women, but did she deserve her fate?

I know this would all probably make me into an angry vengeful spirit, what about you?